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Chaturanga: How to Master the Yoga Pushup

Chaturanga is probably one of the hardest poses in a vinyasa yoga class to master. If you’re not sure what Chaturanga is, it’s effectively a pushup in yoga. There really isn’t anything different about the yoga version or the one that you would do when you’re working out. 

A pushup is basically just a moving plank. You want to keep the plank position the whole time, and just bend your elbows to lower to the ground. Don’t let your hips drop. If you want a visual on this check out my youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zztQSf9MSk

There are 3 stages to a Chaturanga or pushup. Here are techniques you can do that will help you build strength for these 3 stages.

The 3 Phases of Chaturanga:

  1. Lowering from Plank
  2. Pausing for a split second halfway down in your pushup position
  3. Pushing up from that halfway position into upward facing dog

Here are some tips to master each phase of chaturanga:

Phase 1: Lowering Down

Rather than trying to lower from the full plank position, drop to your knees and lower from there. Make sure your knees are slightly behind your hips so you’re in a plank-like position. Here are some more specific tips to mastering this phase:

  • Lower all the way to the ground to start – master this action first
  • If lowering to the ground is hard and you find that you start to “plop” towards the end of the move, bring the ground closer to you – grab yoga blocks, or pillows and lower to those instead.
    • Stack them as high as you need to to feel like you have control over the movement and that you’re doing it well.
    • You’re effectively bringing the ground closer to you and shortening the distance you need to lower with these props.
    • If this is still hard, try plank/pushup positions with your hands lifted higher. Have your hands on a deks or chair and work on building strength there. Here’s a blog post that will help you visually understand what this might look like: “How to get Better at Plank Pose”.
  • Here’s a youtube video about this if you want a visual:

Phase 2: Pausing

With this, I would just focus on core strength to start. Start incorporating forearm planks into your movement practice – see if you can work your way up to holding them for 1 minute. To do this:

  • Hold a forearm plank for 10 seconds – make sure your hips are in line with your shoulders and not too high or low
  • Take a 10 second break
  • Repeat this 6 times so that you hit 1 minute of total work. 
  • As this gets easier, increase the amount of time you’re holding the plank and match your breaks to that time (ex: 20 seconds of hold, 20 seconds of rest, 3 times = 1 min). Eventually it will get easier and you’ll be able to do 1 min plank holds. 

Phase 3: Pushing Up

This is a similar set up as phase 1. Take a bolster, yoga blocks, pillows – anything that you can lay on – this shortens the distance that you have to push yourself up. Rather than pushing up into a full plank, again, you’re going do a pushup with your knees down, which will decrease the load in your plank and make it easier to master. Here’s the setup:

  1. Start by laying down on your props with your hands in the pushup position. 
  2. Engage your core, start with your knees down, and push yourself up from there. 
  3. Don’t worry about lowering to the ground – only work on the pushup up part. 
  4. As this gets easier, remove the props and work from the ground or a lower prop. 

Once you master these 3 phases, Chaturanga and pushups will feel like nothing! 

What do you feel like is the hardest phase of Chaturanga for you to master? Drop me a comment and let me know!

P.S. If you want more basic information about what a chaturanga is, check out my blog post about all things chaturanga.

What is Mobility Work?

If you’ve been on my email list for a while, you’ve probably heard me talk about my mobility class and the mobility work that I’m encouraging everyone to do. Maybe you even remember the name Functional Range Conditioning (FRC). Buuuuut you probably still have some questions so that’s what this post is all about. We’re going to talk about what mobility work – in this case specifically FRC – is, why it’s NOT yoga, and why you SHOULD 100% be incorporating it into your life.

What is mobility work?

Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) is a movement practice that affects your joints specifically. In super sciencey words, it’s isometric strength training for your joints, and then making sure you’re using your joints in every direction they’re meant to be used in. Let’s talk about the last part of that first, because it’s the easiest to get:

I say this all the time

Use it or lose it is REAL

FRC makes sure you don’t lose your mobility. It does this by involving very specific joint circles. These joint circles should be done every day, and the key is to make sure you’re not compensating anywhere else. You want to access your true range of motion, and when you compensate you’re no longer doing this. For example, you should be able to lift your arms above your head without your head pushing forwards or your back backbending, or your ribs jutting out. Most people struggle with this example in particular. 

But what is the isometric joint strength training part of FRC? Well, it’s what makes FRC so effective.

But what does Isometric even mean? 

The term isometric refers to the type of muscular contraction your muscle is performing. There are 3 types. 

Concentric, eccentric, and isometric. 

We see these 3 muscle contractions all the time in yoga and weightlifting. In yoga in particular we often perform a ton of isometric contractions without realizing it. Here’s what each means, briefly:

Concentric: You’re moving a joint in order to short the muscle in order to contract it. Think of a bicep curl: the elbow bends so the bicep can shorten and curl the hand towards you. The bicep is concentrically contracting.

Eccentric: You’re moving a joint to elongate a muscle in order to contract it. For example, the hinge of a deadlift is an eccentric contraction of your hamstring muscles. If you’re not sure what a deadlift looks like, just think of a forward fold in yoga – if you were to add weight to this, it would be an eccentric contraction of your hamstring muscle. Eccentrics are typically the hardest contraction to perform because you’re often fighting against gravity.

Isometric: No joint is moving, but your muscle is engaging. For example, holding a plank pose, your core, arms and glutes are engaging but you haven’t moved any joints in order to find that muscular engagement. Another example would be holding a warrior 2. Or warrior 1. Any hold of a standing pose really is an isometric contraction of your muscles. The act of getting into that pose (ie. The act of starting to bend your knee for warrior 2) is NOT an isometric, but once you start to hold it, it’s isometrics that are holding you in it.

SO if mobility work is isometric joint strength training, it means we’re working on the engagement of the muscles around that particular joint, and holding them in a particular position.

These are SMALL movements that appear like nothing from the outside but holy hell you WILL feel your muscles in ways you’ve never felt them before. They’ll cramp and you’ll most likely be sore the next day. BUT you will feel amazing.

So why is this different from yoga?

It certainly pulls from yoga. We stretch, and then we engage. But again, we’re working at the joint level. Yoga tends to affect larger muscles. You can think of a quad stretch (front of the thigh), or a hamstring stretch (back of the thigh). Often times in FRC, we’d be working where your thigh bone plugs into your hip. It’s a deeper, more specific stretch. It’s a deeper, more specific stretch and then on top of that, you add an isometric contraction. 

They both affect the nervous system, which is why they both work. To see change in movement, you need your brain and nervous system to be affected. But yoga tends to affect the nervous system from a flexibility standpoint, and FRC affects it from a mobility stand point.

If you’re not sure of the difference between mobility and flexibility, make sure you read my blog post all about this by clicking here

So why should you be incorporating this into your movement practice?

Other than the fact that myself and my students who have been doing it with me can 100% vouch for its effectiveness, it all goes back to use it or lose it and the nervous system.

In order for you to move your joints all over the place and everywhere they’re supposed to move, your body needs to feel safe doing so (cue the nervous system). Lots of things impact our body’s understanding of what safe means. If there’s a previous injury to an area, it will most likely be tighter than its counterpart on the other side. This is because your nervous system has kicked into gear to try to protect the area. It recognizes tissue damage, and to protect it, it locks down the muscles and tightens them to restrict movement. 

Tightness can also come from a general lack of stability in a particular area. A joint that lacks stability will often present itself as tightness, as your body will try to tighten the muscles to try to stabilize the joint, rather than learning how to engage its muscles to find that stability instead. You have to teach your body how to do this.

So how do you unlock your joints and teach your nervous system that movement is ok? How do you teach your body stability?

Isometrics. And therefore FRC.

You work on strengthening those tiny muscles around your joints. If your body feels strong at a joint, it feels safe. And when your body feels safe, it allows movement to happen. THIS is why FRC works. 

If you want to read more about the nervous system you can read my blog post here about why stretching isn’t always the answer for flexibility/mobility.

SO moral of the story: Do yoga. It’s good for you. But also add in FRC, because it will not only help your yoga practice, but it’s going to impact your life. 

We need our joints to function and to be healthy, especially as we age. FRC will affect your joints and help with aches and pains, it will help with movement, it will help with any exercise routine you do, and just help you live a healthier and more enjoyable life. 

I know this is a lot to take in so give it a few reads or drop me any questions you have in the comments below. I geek out about this stuff so I’m happy to discuss further!!

2 Exercises for a Strong and Healthy Body

These were chosen for 1 main reason – people tend to lack core stability, and people tend to lack hip stability. If you can increase these 2 areas of stability in your body, it will move better, more efficiently, and sometimes help with aches and pains.

2 Exercises for a Strong and Healthy Body:

Forearm Plank

In my opinion, forearm planks are one of the best exercises you can do to increase both core strength and core stability in one shot. If this is really hard for you, try building up to a minute – do 10 seconds of work, and 10 seconds of rest, until you’ve reach your 60 seconds of work. Continue adding to this as it gets easier – 15 seconds on, 15 seconds off, then 20 seconds on 20 seconds off, etc. until you’re up to your minute.

Things to Pay Attention to:

  • Elbows are stacked right underneath your shoulders
  • You’re pressing down into your forearms so you don’t feel like you’re sinking into your shoulders – it should feel like you’re lifting up and out of your shoulder joint
  • Your hips are in line with your shoulders – not lifting above towards the ceiling, not dropping below towards the ground
  • A way to make this easier: WIDEN YOUR FEET. The wider your feet are, the easier this will be.

Glute Lunges

Most people seem to need more hip stability exercises thrown into their routine, so here’s a glute strengthening exercise for you to try. Don’t worry about the balance here – we’re not focusing on that. Hold onto something so you can concentrate on working your glute muscles, and not be so focused on not falling over.

Things to Pay Attention to:

  • This is NOT the same thing as a yoga lunge. It is a SHORTER stance. Bring your back foot in. As the back knee bends it should be doing so pretty vertical or perpendicular to the ground.
  • Try to get all 10 toes to face forwards so you’re not turned in or out in your feet.
  • Your knees can go past your toes. In fact, they should.
  • Brace your core as you’re doing this. If you’re not sure how to brace your core, watch my short tutorial on YouTube.

If you have any questions about these exercises or anything at all feel free to drop a comment or reach out via email at kateformanyoga@gmail.com. Or just let me know how these felt for you and if they helped! I’d love to hear from you.

Is Yoga Good for Flexibility or Mobility?

So the short answer to this is that yoga is definitely more for your flexibility. Which helps your mobility. Confused? Yeah that’s probably because the words flexibility and mobility get thrown around interchangeably, but they actually mean 2 different things.

The difference between flexibility and mobility is that flexibility is passive range of motion and mobility is active range of motion.

What does passive range of motion and active range of motion even mean?

Passive range of motion means an outside force is bringing your body into a shape. It is your flexibility. It is typically easier.

Active range of motion means that your body is doing it itself. It is your mobility. It is typically harder.

A great example of this is tree pose:

If you were to grab your foot and place it on your thigh – that is your passive range of motion – your flexibility. An outside force (your hand) is forcing your leg into a particular range.

If you were to make this active, or more about your mobility – you would use just the leg to place the foot for tree pose. No help from your hand.

If you give this a try chances are the mobility version is going to be harder and you won’t get the foot as high. Ideally we want our passive and active range of motion to be similar in their ranges of motion for healthy strong stable joints.

So, is yoga good for flexibility or mobility?

The answer is both, but more primarily flexibility, which in turn will help your mobility. And it also depends on how it’s being taught and what the teacher is cuing you to feel.

Personally, I bring a lot of active mobility into my yoga classes because it’s an amazing compliment to the passive flexibility that yoga is focused on. Both are good. You need passive flexibility to have good mobility.

If you want to see this in action for yourself, click the link below and sign up for one of my group zoom yoga classes or dive in deep and join my group zoom mobility class. If you’re a brand new student of mine, your first class is on me! Just click the link below, find a class you want to join, click and sign up!

And as always if you have any questions about this post, yoga, mobility, or anything at all feel free to drop a comment or shoot me an email at kateformanyoga@gmail.com!

Should Your Shoulder Blades Lift in Yoga?

When you hear “Relax your shoulders” in a yoga class, are you actually relaxing them? Or are you pushing them down your back? I’ve found in my years of teaching that most people come to yoga thinking it’s never ok to lift their shoulders and shoulder blades. I’m here to tell you that your shoulder blades were meant to MOVE. That means up, down, side to side – all directions! It’s healthier to move them, and here is how you should be and why.

Why You Want Your Shoulder Blades to Move:

There’s an order of operations to how the shoulder joint moves and stabilizes, and it starts with our shoulder blades. I want to make the sciency biomechanic stuff easy for you to understand, so here it goes:

We want stability in our joints. It helps our body feel safe, and when our body feels safe, there’s less of a chance it will tighten up or tell you that something hurts.

The thing in charge of stabilizing the shoulder joint is called your rotator cuff.

Your rotator cuff can’t do it’s job super well unless other parts of the shoulder are moving properly. It’s one of the last things to fire in the order of operations, but one of the most important things TO fire.

Here’s the order of operations:

Shoulder blade moves into position.

Your rotator cuff engages to help pull your upper arm bone back.

Upper arm bone pulls back and creates a safe, strong, stable shoulder joint.

So How Should the Shoulder Blade Be Moving?

This is where things get a little funky – when your arms are above your head, your shoulder blade goes both up and down. Another way of putting it is that the rotate forwards and up. Weird and confusing, right? Let me show you:

In the image above, you can see the upward rotation of the outer part of the shoulder blade. But you’re not lifting it straight up – it’s going around and up, while the inner part of the shoulder blade – the part closest to your spine – goes down.

Watch the video below to see this in action. Scroll to time stamp 0:26 to see what it looks like overhead:

See how the outside of the shoulder blade wraps forwards and up, but the inside part of the shoulder blade has to actually rotate down? So when you’re lifting your arms above your head and then forcing your shoulders down your back, you’re jamming up that shoulder blade and preventing it from doing it’s job – lifting the arm, and signaling to the rotator cuff that it’s time to stabilize your joint.

I know this is a lot to take in, but it’s so important!! We don’t always want to be forcing our shoulders down! They’re supposed to move and stopping them from doing so can sometimes create pain in our shoulders.

Give it a try right now:

Reach your arms above your head and try to feel the rotation of the outer shoulder blade wrapping forwards and up, while the inner part of the shoulder blade goes down to allow for the elevation of the outer part of the shoulder blade.

How did that feel?

Now try it the other way –

Reach your arms up and push your shoulder blades down your back. Doesn’t feel too good does it?

So from now on in yoga, life – everything – make sure you allow your shoulder blades movement. They’re supposed to go up and down, side to side – they move in every direction!

Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at kateformanyoga@gmail.com and let me know how this felt, but more importantly if you have any questions. I know it can get confusing when you dive deep into anatomy and I want to make it easy for you to understand.

3 Exercises for Healthy Shoulders

No matter what you do for a living, chances are your shoulders at some point have bothered you. Shoulder stretching is one of the most common requests that I get as a yoga instructor. Forget the wear and tear of sitting at a desk or having a job as a server or construction worker – just being hunched over on our phones all day can lead to shoulder stress and discomfort! If you want to make sure your shoulders stay healthy, flexible, and strong, check out these videos for healthy shoulders below.

3 Exercises for Healthy Shoulders:

Thread the Needle

Try this for a good stretch to the neck and shoulder blade. Once you’re loose there, give the next 2 exercises a try

Shoulder T Lift Offs

Make sure that your shoulders aren’t lifting too much towards your ears here. If you feel this in the space between your neck and shoulder, try lowering your shoulder blades and pinching the lowest part of your shoulder blades together. You may still feel it in the space between your neck and shoulder, but you should also be feeling it in your back.

Controlled Shoulder Circles

This is HARD, so if you’re struggling that is OK! Do your best not to lean to 1 side and not to backbend. The floor will stop you from the back-bending a bit. Also do your best to keep your head down. The goal is here to use only the shoulder joint to move – not the rest of our bodies.

If shoulder mobility is something you’re looking to improve, check out my mobility classes every Wednesday at 8am EST. These classes draw from science-backed movement practices and are not yoga (but they will help your yoga practice!). Click the link below to sign up!

If you ever have any questions about anything feel free to drop a comment below or shoot me an email at kateformanyoga@gmail.com or DM me across all social media platforms @kateformanyoga

What to Look for When Buying a Yoga Mat

Overwhelmed by the many yoga mat options? I gotchu! I’m going to break down the 4 most important things to consider when you’re buying a yoga mat, and 1 sales gimmick that really doesn’t make a difference and you can stay away from. Keep reading to find out!

The 4 Most Important Considerations When Buying a Yoga Mat:

Image says what to look for when buying a yoga mat. Underneath is the instagram and facebook handle @kateformanyoga. The 4 things to look for are cushion, stickiness, price, and length.

1. Cushion

This is going to depend on your body, but in general the cushion needs to be enough so you can feel comfortable with your knees down, but not so soft you feel like it squishes completely under you feet. The softer the mat is, the harder it’s going to be for you to balance. The less cushion a mat has, the more your knees may bother you. That being said, you could always slide a yoga blanket or pillow under your knees if you feel like you need that extra cushioning for your knees!

2. Stickiness

When you see a mat at the store, try sliding your hand on it – does it get stuck easily? Then it probably will also get stuck easily in downdog – which is a good thing! If it feels waxy or slippery in any way, then chances are your hand will slide in downdog, which can be really frustrating and actually make your yoga practice feel harder. If it’s rough/textured or literally sticky, then you’re probably going to stay put in your downdogs and feel more comfortable in your practice as a result.

3. Price

Yoga mats have a huuuuge range of pricing – all the way from $10-$100. Mats you buy at big box stores tend to be on the lower pricing but they also tend to be thinner and more slippery. Other brands like Manduka or Jade mats that have been around forever and are on the high end of the spectrum, but will be thicker and more sticky. There are other brands in the mid-range pricing, such as Gaiam, that may also hit the first 2 mat requirements on this list.

4. Length

This may or may not be something you need to consider. If you’re short like me (I’m 5’2), it really doesn’t make a difference. But if you’re particularly tall (like maybe 5’10 or more), you’re probably going to want to get a longer mat so you can make sure you have enough room on the mat to practice. There are some companies that specifically design longer mats for taller practitioners – a simple google search for “long yoga mat” should show you your options!

1 Yoga Mat Sales Gimmick to Avoid:

Yoga Mat Alignment Lines

There are some mats that try to sell you on them because of the lines that are “perfectly placed” so you can make sure you’re “staying in good alignment”. Personally I think this is totally unnecessary and I’ll tell you why:

Your body is not the same as someone else’s, which means your yoga practice is not going to have the same alignment as someone else’s.

Certain things may be the same, certain things might not. Certain things one person does that feels good to them may not feel good to you.

Let’s Look at Warrior 1 as an Example:

Your ability to get your hips to face forward in warrior 1 depends almost completely on your ankle mobility. So those of us with poor ankle mobility need to find a wider stance in order to adjust the leg to help turn the hips forwards. If you have great ankle mobility you may be more comfortable in a narrower stance.

So arbitrary lines that some yoga company is calling the “correct alignment” just shows that they actually don’t really understand biomechanics and how bodies function in real life.

This Can Be Applied to the Weight Room Too:

If you’ve ever heard trainers say not to use the weight machines in gyms – this is the same principle. The weight machines in a gym track your body in 1 direction and don’t allow you to move differently than the pathway that’s already been determined by the machine. Again – your body is not your neighbors, which means it needs to move specific to its own design – not the design of a machine, and not the design of a yoga company drawing “alignment lines” on a mat.

There is an Exception:

Now the only exception to this I would say is if you like how it looks. If that’s the case, then go for it. But if you’re using it so you can make sure your alignment is “correct”, then don’t bother.

I hope this was helpful for you to decide what your best mat option is for you! If you have any questions feel free to drop me a comment or shoot me an email at kateformanyoga@gmail.com and I’m happy to help you on your mat journey.

4 More Yoga Myths and Yoga Truths Continued…

Have you ever heard any of these cues or statements about yoga and how it can benefit you? If so, you may be hearing a few yoga myths that permeate the yoga world. This is a continuation of a previous blog post with 4 yoga myths and truths. If you’ve already read that one, keep reading here to find out 4 more yoga myths and the reasons why these are myths and not truths.

Picture of someone doing downward facing dog with text overlaid that reads "4 Yoga Myths and 4 Yoga Truths Continued...".

Myth #1: Your Shin Should be Parallel to the Front of your Mat in Pigeon Pose

Another big NO here. Mine can’t do that, and from what I’ve seen from my teaching career, it’s pretty rare that someone has that kind of range of motion in their hips. Here’s what you should know:

  • Pigeon pose comes from having the ability to turn your leg bone open in your hip joint. Everyone’s body is built different, and sometimes people have hip joints that won’t allow this huge range of motion. So the ability to do this is somewhat anatomical, which means it won’t ever change no matter how much you stretch.
  • If you don’t have the flexibility or anatomical structure required to do a movement in your body, your body will try to find that flexibility elsewhere. In the case of pigeon pose, it often comes from twisting and tweaking your knee. Not good. Not worth it.

So, how should you be doing pigeon?

Have your leg more folded up. Have your foot closer to your pubic pose rather than thinking of paralleling the shin to the front of your mat.

If you want to learn more about this, make sure to check out my pigeon pose tutorial on YouTube:

Myth #2: Having Muscle Means You Can’t Be Flexible

FALSE. This is an Alvin Ailey dancer. Case in point:

This image is of an Alvin Ailey dancer who is wearing red pants and is not wearing a shirt and has a 6 pack and very muscular arms. One one side he's jumping in the air with his legs completely spread, and the other side of the picture he's balancing on his toes on one foot while the other leg is directly in line and in the air showing extreme flexibility.

Myth #3: Your Shoulder Blades Should Never Lift

When you reach up to a cabinet in your kitchen to grab a glass, are you aware of how your shoulder blade is moving? Probably not. Go ahead and do it without changing anything. Your shoulder blade lifted up didn’t it? Yes, unless you jammed your shoulder blades down your back, it did. So this is SUPPOSED to happen when our arms go above our head. Without getting into the nitty-gritty anatomy geeky stuff, stop forcing your body to do something it was built to do. If it feels better for your shoulder to lift, chances are it’s supposed to be doing that. Trust your body – it knows and will communicate to you when things are right or wrong.

Myth #4: “Practice and All is Coming”

I might get some backlash on this one, especially from those of you who practice Ashtanga Yoga. If you’re unfamiliar, this phrase was coined by Pattabhi Jois (the big Ashtanga Yoga honcho) in the context of practicing yoga.

Now, before everyone starts freaking out – sure, yes, practicing yoga will make you get better at yoga. That’s not what I’m arguing here.

I’m arguing the extreme that this quote has been taken to. Here are some examples of what I mean:

It Doesn’t Account for Anatomical and Structural Differences

Example #1: Downdog
Example #2: Pigeon Pose
  • If your hip socket is smaller, your leg probably won’t ever get parallel to the front of the front of your mat. Your thigh bone will hit your hip bone trying to do so and it probably won’t feel great.
Example #3: Splits
  • Same ideas a pigeon pose. If your hip socket doesn’t have the room in it for your thigh bone to move completely forwards and back, front splits probably aren’t in the cards for you.

And all of this is completely OK and should be normalized in yoga. Your body is not mine or your neighbors, so why should your yoga practice look exactly the same? It should not.

So those are my 4 yoga myths. Here are some questions for you – drop me a comment with your answers:

  1. Do you have any others you think belong on this list?
  2. Not sure about a cue you heard in class?
  3. Anything unclear?

Stretching and Pain – What’s the Difference?

Sometimes it can be tough to know if you’re feeling the “right” thing in a yoga class. I’ve been asked a few times if the place a student is feeling the stretch is correct. Here are a few signs to look for if you’re not sure if you’re feeling a stretch in the right place and how to tell the difference between stretching and pain.

Picture of someone stretching with text overlayed that says How to Tell the Difference Between Stretching and Pain.

For a lot of people, especially those who are on the more flexible side, it can be really challenging to figure out what exactly is going on in your body. I myself have been guilty of this. When I first started practicing yoga I would come into a low lunge with the back knee down and lean my hips as far forwards as I could. This was the only way I could actually feel anything in this pose, but I later learned that what I was feeling wasn’t exactly a stretching sensation in the right place.

It can be pretty common for people to feel like they need to go to the absolute extreme in order to feel something, especially if the person leans more on the flexible side, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I started to feel something around my front hip, and thought “well that’s what I should be feeling.” Fast forward a few years later to me learning about the body and I realize this was not a muscular stretch that I was feeling. Why? 

Because in general, you want to feel stretches in the “belly”, or center, of the muscle.

So in this stretch, I would have ideally felt it more in the center of the front of my thigh – not closer to the hip where I had been feeling it.

If this is confusing, don’t worry. Here are a few simple bullet points to look for when you’re practicing yoga to make sure you’re feeling a stretch and not pain:

  • Make sure the feeling you’re feeling is in the center of the muscle – not closer to a joint. So in a forward fold, try to feel it in the center of your back thigh – not close to the knee – not close to your butt. 
    • Note: If you don’t feel it here, adjust your position and get creative and explorative to try to find a place where you do feel it in the center of the muscle. This might mean engaging the muscle more, or backing out of the stretch even.

Ask Yourself These Questions:

  1. Are you feeling something sharp? This is pain.
  2. Are you feeling something pinch? This is pain.
  3. Is the feeling dull or achy? This could also be pain.

Ultimately a stretch should feel good. It can feel intense, but it should ultimately feel good. That is the main difference between stretching and pain.

And I’ll leave with a question for you: What poses are you not quite sure that you’re feeling the right thing? How can you change what you’re doing and get explorative in your practice to figure out what works best for your body? 

Drop me your answers in the comments below, and if there’s a pose you’re not sure how to alter let me know as well!

Should You Let Your Knees Go Past Your Ankles?

Should you let your knees go past your ankles? What about if you have an injured knee?

I posted this tweet on my Instagram a few weeks ago, and boy did I hear a lot of opinions on the matter

A lot of people were upset by this because their doctors have told them not to let this happen because of their knee injuries, so I’m going to cut this off at the pass before diving deeper into this subject, and say this tweet was NOT about you if you have knee injuries. This was a post meant for people with healthy knees, who have heard this cue in yoga because it is a very common cue for yoga teachers, which in my opinion creates a fear around this action that is just unnecessary because it’s totally safe to let your knees go past your ankles.

SO now that that’s out of the way – I want to talk about this for both healthy knees and knees with pain.

Again, if your doctor has told you to avoid letting your knees go past your ankles, then listen to your doctor. I am in no way suggesting your doctor is wrong.

That being said, it’s not fair to generalize and say that everyone with knee injuries needs to avoid this movement. That’s not taking into consideration that everyone has their own individual and unique experience. What is safe for one person may be unsafe for another, and vice versa. So I personally wouldn’t even assume that this is an unsafe position for your knee even if you have knee injuries – UNLESS YOUR DOCTOR HAS SAID SO.

Let me give you an example. We’re gonna dive deep into skiing for a second, so just stick with me because I promise I’ll bring it back to you and your knees and body.

So here’s the deal. I actually have knee issues but only on my left side and only when I ski. My knee KILLS me when I ski. I’ve been skiing for 29 years, and in the last 5-10 it’s gotten so bad that I sometimes can’t walk directly afterwards. This is pretty much the only time it bothers me. And I will tell you why and how I have recently fixed it:

Skiing is basically just an elongated chair pose hold, and in chair pose your knees have to go forwards of your ankles. This movement doesn’t come from the knee – it comes from your ankle’s flexibility. And my ankle mobility sucks. So my knees don’t go forwards of my ankles very much, and because they’re SUPPOSED to do this when you ski, my body has to figure out a different place to find that movement. If you’re not a skiier, here’s a picture of what your body is supposed to look like:

When you turn, not only are your knees supposed to go even more past your ankles, but your foot/ankles have to move a bit in the boot to bring you into the turn. But like I said before, my ankle mobility is not good, so when I turn I can’t really do this from my ankles and feet, which is where my body is supposed to be finding the movement. So instead, my body has to find that movement from somewhere else. It compensates somewhere else because of the lack of movement in my ankle.

So where does my body pull the movement from? MY KNEE. Which is why it hurts when I ski.

SO – This is all to say, if my ankle mobility was better, then my knee would be able to go past my ankle and I would have the range of motion I needed to turn from my feet and ankles, and my knee wouldn’t be twisting a bit as I turn. How did I fix this recently? I put heel lifts in my shoes. Heel lifts will create more range of motion in your ankles and allow your knees to go forwards of your ankles more.

Heel lift for me = Increased ankle mobility = Decrease pain in my knee

This is a perfect example of how every single person’s body’s are different and we shouldn’t ever generalize anything.

Ok now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into this tweet and how this relates to YOU and yoga.

Do you struggle to get your heels down in a squat? If so, chances are it’s because of your ankle mobility – NOT your hip flexibility. So how do you fix this? Just like I did with skiing – LIFT YOUR HEELS! You can grab a blanket or towel and slide it under your heels to whatever height you need for your body to be able to sit down into a squat. Give it a try I promise it will help!

Your body was designed to let your knees go past your ankles. When you were born, this was something that was supposed to happen in your body. 

Unfortunately as we age, we develop certain movement patterns that may restrict this movement and we lose our ability to let our knees go forwards of our ankles. We sit a lot in the west, and use it or lose it is very real, and this is part of why we’ve, in general, lost this ability to let our knees go forwards of our ankles.

Think about children. They are usually so so flexible right? They just pop right into a squat. We were all born with this ability, but as we live our lives we fall, we get injured, we move, we develop movement habits that are specific to what we do in our lives.

Some of us maintain this flexibility in our hips and ankles because it’s been incorporated into our lives in some way as we grew older, but for a lot of people we lose it. This is why it disappears from our lives – not because we SHOULDN’T be doing it, but because we AREN’T doing it. And then things that require this movement start to get tougher. For example, in order to climb stairs, your knee needs to go forwards of your ankles to help you get up. 

Here’s a video of me letting my knees go past my ankles to climb stairs, and then trying to not let them go forwards. I almost fell backwards trying to keep them from going forwards.

So to answer the question posed in the title of this blog post:

Should you let your knees go past your ankles?

Yes – absolutely you should. If you have that ability and you don’t have pain then 100% you should be letting that happen.

Should you let your knees go past your ankles if you have a knee injury?

It depends. There is no right or wrong answer here because everyone’s pain and injuries are unique to them and their bodies and how they move and why they’re in pain.

I’m expecting some intense responses here, so drop me those comments and let me know what you think. And if you want to understand your body further and movements unique and specific to YOU, make sure you sign up for my FREE 30 minute one-on-one zoom session. It’s free for your first time working with me in a private session. I’ve dropped the link below to sign up for your time slot. Can’t wait to work with you and get you moving in a safe and individualized way 

Till next time,

Kate

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